Composing for the musically incompetent

This time I wanted to address a topic I find quite interesting, although I am no expert on it whatsoever.

I have always been an admirer of all kinds of musical genres and am certainly no exception in that regard. Despite that fact I never came across the opportunity to professionaly learn an instrument or really understand how to write and read music. Nonetheless from time to time there are some melodies building up in my head I would wish to be able to write down.

As we are currently developing games which are very much in need of a soundtrack backing up their gameplay and visuals there certainly is the opportunity for me to experiment. On top of that, financing a musician wouldn’t be possilbe for us at the time and finding the perfect fit for the team would take a hell of a lot of time or strike us as a miracle. So I thought to myself why shouldn’t I at least try something out. Can’t hurt can it? The first question in my musical adventure I recently began was, where to start?

After some time fooling around at the keyboard and trying to get some nice sounds from my guitar I decided it would be much easier for me to just do it digital. I have to say I am not entirely new to music creation tools, however professional composing is pretty much an unkown deep sea creature to me. If you are, like me, just somebody scratching on the surface of the audio world and you don’t feel the need to dive deeper it’s good to go for some free software that does the basic job.

I decided on using lmms (linux multimedia studio), because I was amazed by it’s diversity of functions and easy to use interface. I am an amateur at this, but if you ask me for my opinion I would say, it is a masterpiece of free music creation tools. Have a look at their site if you are interested.

Enough with the advertising and on with the actual topic. I won’t tell you anything about how to use that program or how to compose something because as I said I don’t have a clue about it, but what I will tell you are a few facts I realized while struggling with my first attempts.

As I was listening to some soundtracks for inspirational purpose, I was lying on the floor, my headphones on, eyes closed and picturing all kinds of images in my head. Previously I had the fear that I would not be able to do anything musical, but at that moment I realized that music is really just another way to describe feelings, landscapes, characters and objects to us. Listening to something makes me visualize a story in my mind, so I was certain it must work the other way round. With that new found courage, I decided on creating the musical background for my favourite environment in Reblobed: The old mining cave.

As I had already drawn the whole stage I had a lot of pictures to use as orientation. The first thing I wanted to hear on the track was something like water dropping from stalactites.

If you listen to that track it is nothing more than a simple bass, but with a picture in the back of your head it suddenly sounds like big water drops on an old piece of leather lying around in the cave.

As I was looking at my drawings and dream walking through that environment I saw a lot of smaller drops joining the big ones in leaving the ceiling…

… and maybe even hit some rusty metal pieces inbetween.

After only mixing those noises I had something quite rythmic and atmospheric put together.

So far, so good. At that point I still needed something melodic for the environment. I opened up the piano scroll within lmms and at first was at a total blank. I thought, I could use pictures in my mind to find the right sounds but how are pictures going to help me create a melody? Here I was sitting in front of my pc, with that same old fear of the unknown I had previously managed to ignore. After giving in to my frustration I went to look out the window, inhaled some fresh air and was about to end the days work.

Angry and bored I took the mouse and randomly began to put senseless notes on the scroll which turned out to be a great action. Within a second my frustration went away, because I had found something all too familiar on the screen. I was just drawing lines and forgot about the feared complexity of melodies. The next thought I had was: If I can simply draw melodies, how about trying to draw my cave level by using notes?

melody

Imagining stone tunnels winding up and down through a mountain, my melody became a curve of low and high points. Walking around in a dangerous cave, with a lot of pits to fall in, you don’t want to just run the whole way through. Inbetween the flawless walks, there are well needed slow downs.

At the end I felt like listening to the sounds of a mysterious labyrinth consisting of looping tunnels and me having a hard time finding my way out.

Finishing the track was a lot of fun and I am happy with the result. At the end I realized visualizing stuff can help a lot with music creation. One does not have to be an expert to get something working.

If you want to listen to the complete track click play below.

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